New Orleans Saints among QB mysteries in unpredictable NFL draft

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METAIRIE, La. – Has there ever been less consensus on where the two best quarterback prospects will land in the NFL draft?

Depending on your choice, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett are projected from No. 2 to No. 20. And the New Orleans Saints are right in the middle of the mystery of choices 16 and 19.

The signing of quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton in free agency suggests they may be happy to go the veteran route. But then their exciting trade-off with an extra first-time choice opened up a world of possibilities.

Not only do they have the security to advance to this year’s draft if they choose to, but they almost certainly ruled out the possibility of drawing a top quarterback in 2023 by swapping away next year’s first-rounder.

Even former coach Sean Payton acknowledged that New Orleans’ trade increased the possibility of a quarterback trade – even though he insisted he had no insider knowledge.

“Without any information, I would say that when a trade like that happens, it’s either to get choices, I think like what they’re doing, or it’s to go further north to get a quarterback. We have to to think that way, “Payton said as he attended a Zurich Classic charity event this week.” I would not be surprised to see the two wrapped up. “

Of course, New Orleans could also pack these choices to trade for an offensive tackle or wide receiver instead.

And it’s still possible that the Saints could stay seated and draw a quarterback of 16, 19 or 49, now that they have enough capital to think both short-term and long-term.

Here’s a look at which quarterbacks they could target in each scenario:

If they switch up

It is possible that Willis or Pickett may fail. But the Saints would have to swap to be absolutely sure they can get their top picks – perhaps all the way into the top five ahead of two division rivals: the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons.

“I do not think they made that trade with the intention of moving up after a quarterback or even spending one of the two on a quarterback,” speculated ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay – but he acknowledged that it is almost impossible to determine each team’s quarterback plans.

“What’s wild about this year’s class – more than any previous year I can remember – is the difference in opinions when I pick up the phone with one guy in the league versus the next guy. And I’m not just talking about scouts, I talking about general managers, guys who make the decisions.

“I have a team that says they like it [Ole Miss’] Matt Corral as the No. 1 quarterback. I’ve had two or three teams say they like it [Cincinnati’s Desmond] Knight more. I’ve got some teams say they like Malik Willis the most and then I’ve got some teams say he’s the fourth best quarterback in this class. Pickett is usually either 1 or 2.

“The only thing that’s reasonably consistent is that everyone – including myself – agrees that they’re more in the middle of late first round prospects.”

ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid agreed with McShay that all of this year’s prospects would be behind the top five in last year’s class. But Reid has consistently predicted that Willis and Pickett will go higher than most projections because “there’s always the ‘quarterback tax’ I like to call it.”

Reid has Willis No. 1 on his board. And most analysts agree that Willis has the highest potential cap.

Meanwhile, analysts Greg Cosell and Matt Bowen agreed on ESPN’s NFL Matchup that Pickett is the most ready to step into an NFL offensive right away. And Bowen’s description sounded like one that fits New Orleans’ past tendencies under Payton and the remaining offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.

“You’re talking about an offensive, he fits into the National Football League, it’s one built on timing and rhythm, with West Coast elements,” said Bowen, who recently identified what each top prospect does best.

If they stay seated

If the Saints do not like Willis or Pickett enough to swap, they can also pass on both as 16- and 19-year-olds. But ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Pickett would be a “good choice at that particular time” and could be in a good position to succeed at New Orleans’ domed stadium and the NFC in general.

Another joker option is that the Saints would have the extra first-round pick because they liked Corral or Knight and wanted the best of both worlds (a developmental quarterback and a first-rounder who help instantly on another position).

“If they stand clap at 16 or 19, it could be for Desmond Knight,” Reid said. “There’s a lot of steam right now where the Pittsburgh Steelers like him sitting behind the Saints as No. 20.”

If they wait until day 2

If quarterbacks fall in Round 1, it could create value in Round 2. Reid said he would be confident in drawing Knight, Corral and North Carolina’s Sam Howell in Round 2 in any given year – not just because of 2022 inflation .

Reid paired the Saints with Howell as he and ESPN analyst Matt Miller made a mock draft only for quarterback – while Miller sent Nevada’s Carson Strong to New Orleans in round 3.

“I think 49 would probably be the most likely place (if the Saints draft a quarterback),” McShay said.

But after the top five prospects, McShay said he does not believe any other quarterback “has a chance to be more than a good backup.”

If they pass completely

It’s not like New Orleans has to force a quarterback election. Winston still has an enticing upside that he showed before tearing his ACL in Week 8 last season. Dalton is just as good as any other backup in the league. Taysom Hill is expected to go into a more tight-end role, but he can always slip back into the quarterback if injuries require it. And the Saints can continue to develop last year’s election in the fourth round, the Ian Book.

Meanwhile, they could use the early picks for an offensive tackle and / or a wide receiver to give Winston an even better chance of thriving.

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